Let it be ugly
Kerry’s foot pedalled harder, the wheel whirring and purring like a contented cat as she scooped water onto the platform with her cupped hands. Getting into a steady rhythm, she scraped up a handful of clay and paused, just for a moment, feeling the heft of the cool, dampness nestled in her palm, willing it to speak to her as she closed her eyes and took a deep, cleansing breath, filling her lungs to capacity, then letting it all out with a whoosh.
It had been a while – the clay wouldn’t speak to her, so she had shunned it for weeks, locking the door to her studio and turning her back on dirty, blackened fingernails and splatters on her face and hair – but this morning she’d woken with a peculiar longing to return and so she found herself turning the key in the lock and sitting down on her old, wooden stool with the cracked leather padding of faded brown.
Now that she was here, she couldn’t find her inspiration. Where was her muse? Her foot slowed, then stilled, as her eyes fell upon vases, pots and sculptures – delicate works of intricate craftsmanship that had all come from her own imagination, from her own hands – willing each item to fill her with fresh ideas, to infuse her with their beauty so that she could create again.
Where to begin? How to begin? Kerry’s heart sank as she realised she felt nothing, heard nothing, and her eyes fell to the grey lump squishing slightly between her fingers as she unwittingly asserted pressure. She would have to get to work soon, before the clay started drying and became more difficult to manipulate, before she gave up. She would just begin and to hell with the outcome – she had to get back into the swing of things. Something simple, perhaps? Let’s go right back to the beginning.
Treading again, the wheel picked up speed and more water was splashed on, sending dull droplets flying from the edges of its hypnotic spinning as she expertly dropped the clay into the centre and began moulding it.
Without thinking, without looking, her fingers exerted an even pressure. More treading, more water, thumbs pressing down into the centre from above, creating a hollow. More treading, more water, palms gliding, fingers guiding, drawing it upwards. More treading, more water, pinching it in a little near the top; pulling it out again into a curved lip. Slower, slower, stop.
More clay… Shape it, press it, score it, seal it with slip. Repeat – another and another and another. Misshapen lumps becoming deformed features – bulbous eyes, flattened nose, fat lips, protruding tongue, and heavy brow. Rolling a section between her palms in to a thick sausage, pressing it flat with dextrous fingers, bending, pressing, scoring and sealing with slip that oozed and gleamed in the golden light filtering thr0ugh the picture window.
And then it was finished. So basic – a mug with a malformed face, such as a small child might present to a proud parent. Looking at it squatting on the wheel, she felt a mild shudder of disgust at this misshaped mask with its lopsided grin, but felt compelled to grin in return.
“Let it be ugly,” she thought to herself. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Gently, she worked her palette knife under the base to free it from the wheel and set the monstrous mug on a board to dry, unable and unwilling to let go of her smile. It might not be beautiful, but it was a start. And after all, there would always be tomorrow.
Kell Smurthwaite, 2006 ©